Urban Mobility

Future of Transit: On-Demand Services & the Data Ownership Dilemma

Door to Destination Transit

When it comes to on-demand offerings, traditional transit might not be the first service that consumers expect to arrive at their door. But while fixed schedules and stationary pick-up spots were the norm in the pre-cell phone era, the modern rider is expecting an affordable, fast, and ultimately convenient experience to deliver them from point A to point B.

 

Over the past year, transit leaders across the country have come to recognize this expectation, and are fast developing options that will not only deliver you to your destination, but pick you up right at the front step.

 

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As detailed in FutureStructure this month, several transit agencies have started experimenting with service options that will pick riders up from their homes, much like a taxi or ride-share service. In Kansas City, Austin, and Tampa, local agencies have bolstered their regular services with pilot programs that cost just a few dollars, and help riders overcome the “first mile-last mile challenge.”

 

For example, Tampa’s Hillsborough Regional Transit (HART) has created HyperLINK, a van-based program that ferries individuals to a station that is part of the larger transportation ecosystem. By eliminating walking time and mitigating unattractive factors, such as poor weather, HART encourages its riders to choose transit while also making it easy for those with disabilities to access full and affordable transportation.

 

As Greg Brackin, HART’s director of operations support and ADA, puts it, “The millennials want transit, but they don’t want a 40-foot bus. They want other options out there, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

 

Experts predict that these types of programs could be particularly appealing as cities look to lure commuters away from their cars and toward transit, while also keeping costs low with a tech-based option. Rather than fully separate mobility as a service (MaaS) solutions and transit, the future could instead see integrated applications that combine the advantages of both to benefit all parties.

 

Answering the Data Ownership Dilemma

As door-to-door transportation, ridesharing, bikesharing, and microtransit solutions become more prevalent, policy makers and city leaders must also contend with the policy questions that arise from the use of these private mobility options. A prevalent topic that is now making waves is this: How are we measuring the ways that these new technologies impact our urban ecosystem? And further, who owns the data from these private technologies?

 

CityLab mulls this question in a recent article, stating, “For example, without such data it’s hard for policymakers—or the general public—to decide if it’s a good idea to convert a parking meter to a ride-hailing drop-off point, or to ensure pedestrians aren’t obstructed by heaps of dockless bikeshare bikes on the sidewalk.”

 

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Simply put, experts agree that while it is difficult to “force” companies to share their data, collaboration between the public and private sectors will only benefit infrastructure planning and overall performance. While private MaaS solutions are working to create a better rider experience, local agencies have decades of experience and a vested interest in ensuring the transportation ecosystem is running smoothly across all levels, from streets to sidewalks and beyond.

 

According to experts, the future of data-sharing likely lays in exchange services that anonymize rider information, providing public experts and other parties with the ability to answer policy questions.

 

This is the driving idea behind projects like SharedStreets, a collaboration between the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), the World Resources Institute, and the OECD’s International Transport Forum. SharedStreets collects aggregated data that is rich enough to allow for deep analysis while still hiding information about individual rides, which alleviates a number of privacy concerns.

 

However, for SharedStreets and other information-sharing initiatives to work, it’s critical for large and popular companies to buy in and provide data sets of their own. It’s obvious that the momentum for smart cities and data-backed transportation is fast developing, but significant investment is needed so we can understand the actual impact of these technologies, enabling for intelligent decision-making that keeps the city as the foremost focus point.

 

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.